By Ron Kubicki, PSIA/AASI Certified Level III Alpine/Children’s Specialist II
I think everyone who has skied for any length of time in the East knows you can expect any and all conditions on the slopes. Conditions can go from “bullet-proof” porcelain to corn snow in a matter of hours, or we can get a dump of anything from “champagne powder” to “lake effect wet cement.”
No matter what the conditions are, there are a few tips that will help you deal with the less then “groomed corduroy” conditions you are likely to run into.
For the sake of this article, let’s call any snow you ski “in” and not “on” as crud. The consistency can be anything from piles of “sugar” you get on bulletproof days, to the heavy and gnarly clumps of pushed up snow you encounter on the rainy days to the tough and leaden heavy snow that is all tracked up from a heavy snowfall.
The key word in skiing in all this is patience.
Do not try to rush through your turns. Don’t make abrupt direction changes with your skis or edge sets to finish a turn. Tone your movements down and let it happen – “it” being the ski engaging with the snow and giving you your turn.
Many people try to throw their upper bodies into a turn, thinking they need some extra “oomph” to begin, when all you need is to direct your ski with your legs and a subtle edge change, then ride your ski through the turn all the way to the end. It will happen. The turns are built into your ski. Just stay balanced and engage the front of the ski. Your ski will turn down and through the fall-line and continue across to finish your turn. Then redirect your skis using your legs and core to initiate the next turn.
Think big round turns. Do not use any sudden upper body movements or edge checks. If you launch your upper body into the beginning of the turn, your skis will still be submerged in the snow going in the direction they are pointed in, which could cause you, yourself, to be “submerged” in the snow! The same thing would happen with a heavy edge set at the end of the turn; your skis will suddenly lose momentum and you will stall in your turn, typically with less than favorable results.
Making big round turns will also give you patience and rhythm in your skiing. Your speed control comes by completing your turns. If you let them, your skis will continue to turn uphill to a stop, so you can totally control your downhill speed by just taking your time to let your skis turn.
Another tip is to ski with your legs and knees ready to deal with any hidden changes in terrain. Soft and falling snow may hide bumps or depressions, so stay in your athletic position to be able to maintain your turn no matter what you encounter – unseen – under the snow.
For more aggressive steep terrain skiing, you may need to make tighter turns which may require some assistance in unweighting your skis to begin your turn. You still need to be patient – just with a quicker rhythm to begin your turn.
There are a number of ways to unweight your skis to assist in the start of your turn:
• Up Unweighting – extend your legs so at the top of your extension your skis will be “unweighted” at that instant. Don’t crank your skis around, but they will be easier to guide using legs and core strength.
• Down Unweighting – as you flex your legs, your skis are somewhat “lighter.” How fast you flex your legs determines how “light” they are. Initiate your turn as you are comfortable – again using legs and torso strength.
• Retraction – this is pulling your legs up to a stable upper body. Think of supporting yourself on a set of parallel bars and pulling your feet up. As you pull your feet up, your skis will be “lighter.”
There are other tips and tasks that you can master to make you a better all-round “all-mountain” skier. Don’t be afraid to push your envelope to expand your skill set.
A good way to accumulate more skills is to take a group or private lesson from one of our PSIA-E trained pros. Work on your skiing in all situations and you will soon be able to ski.
I hope to see you all on the slopes as we head into some good Spring conditions.
Remember to smile and “Turn left… Turn right … Repeat”